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 home >> Civil Rights History Project >> Survey of Collections and Repositories >> Collections >> Collection Record

The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories

Mary Church Terrell papers

Repository: Library of Congress. Manuscript Division

Collection Description (Extant): The papers of Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) span the years 1851 to 1962, with the bulk of the material concentrated in the period 1886-1954. Consisting primarily of diaries, correspondence, printed matter, clippings, and speeches and writings, the collection focuses on Terrell's career as an advocate of women's rights and equal treatment for African Americans. Born to a prosperous Memphis family in 1863, the year of the Emancipation Proclamation, she witnessed the transition from the systematic dismantling of black rights following Reconstruction to the early successes of the civil rights movement after World War II. Her own life chartered a course that extended from organizing the self-help programs promulgated by leaders such as Booker T. Washington to directing sit-down strikes and boycotts in defiance of Jim Crow discrimination. She died in 1954, several months after the Supreme Court's Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision, having herself waged several successful court battles in the fight against segregation in Washington, D.C.

The Terrell Papers reflect all phases of her public career. They show her as lecturer, as club woman, as writer, and as political campaigner. Among the issues she addressed were lynching and peonage conditions in the South, women's suffrage, the Equal Rights Amendment, the franchise for African Americans, and the need for educational programs for blacks. She spoke and wrote frequently on these matters, and the texts of most of her statements, whether brief introductory messages or extended essays, are in the Speeches and Writings file. Examples of the range of her writings include several reminiscences of Frederick Douglass, a dramatization of the life of Phillis Wheatley, and numerous articles on African-American scientists, artists, and soldiers. Also in the collection are copies of a feature column, “Up to Date,” which she wrote for the Chicago Defender, 1927-1929.

Access Copy Note: The papers of Mary Church Terrell are open to research. Researchers are advised to contact the Manuscript Reading Room prior to visiting. Many collections are stored off-site and advance notice is needed to retrieve these items for research use.

Date(s): 1851-1962

Existing IDs: MSS42549

Extent: 13,000 items ; 51 containers ; 22.5 linear feet ; 34 microfilm reels

Finding Aid URL:

Language: English, with French and German

Related Archival Items: Related collections in the Manuscript Division include the papers of Terrell's husband, Robert H. Terrell.

Rights (Extant): Copyright in the unpublished writings of Mary Church Terrell in these papers and in other collections of papers in the custody of the Library of Congress has been dedicated to the public.


African American educators
African American women civil rights workers
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (U.S.)
Terrell, Mary Church, 1863-1954
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
Women's rights




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   September 26, 2018
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